The Winter Laundry Cycle


Have you noticed that winter this year has taken on the characteristics of the laundry?  Just like the laundry pile that you wash, dry, and put away no sooner do we get the snow cleared up then there is more for us to take care of.  Wash, dry, fold, repeat……. snowfall, endure frigid temperatures, shovel sidewalks/driveways, salt, repeat.

Here in North East Ohio we are dealing with the latest snow storm system to dump through our area, and I discovered this morning that I was unable to muster up the energy or will power to force myself to go out and drive on roads with blurred lines, slush, and white out conditions.  So instead, I decided to take a PTO day and stay home with this guy:

And let me tell ya, he is in rare form today!  The Disney tunes are blaring while he meows along with them.  Yes, you did read that correctly, he is MEOWING along…..gotta love this guy!

The long, dark, cold days of winter are here and they don’t look to be letting spring in anytime soon.  I find myself often sinking into dark and depressing thoughts.  Why is it that dark and cold lead to these lonely and isolated places in my mind?

Well today I am determined to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer and I will focus on trying to contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.(Romans 12:13, NSRV).  Winter will not hold me a melancholy prisoner in its cold grips!  This passage from Romans will be my to do list for today.  If I take a look at this verse in the amplified version of the Bible, I have a clearer picture of what my tasks for today are:


constantly rejoicing in hope [because of our confidence in Christ], steadfast and patient in distress, devoted to prayer [continually seeking wisdom, guidance, and strength]

Recently I have been drawn to studies of the early church in general, and the roles and voices of women in particular.  So for this item on my to do list I will spend some time in my daily prayer routine, then dive into reading some more of the books in my pile that are related to the early church.  Somewhere in all of this history there is a message for me as I begin to focus on moving forward in my calling.

Getting lost in the ancient stories takes me away to places that are warm and sunny.  The stories of intelligence, confidence in God, and courageous faith help to fill me up with purpose.


contributing to the needs of God’s people

This task has brought me full circle back to my own set of God’s people and back to the laundry.  What better way to combat the winter blues then to have fresh and clean flannel sheets when we get into our beds tonight!  So down to the washer I go with all the sheets and throw them into the washer.  I am sure that later today when I have returned to the basement to put the sheets into the dryer, and then again when I go down a third time to take them out of the dryer to put them back on the beds I will be questioning my sanity and wondering why I thought all this extra work today was a good idea.  But I will indeed be rejoicing when I lay my head down on my pillow as I snuggle into bed for the night and inhale the comforting smell of fresh from the laundry sheets.


pursuing [the practice of] hospitality

For this one, I again am looking no further than my own household today and the people and animals that live here.  Sometimes in the stresses of our day-to-day lives, we forget these souls need our hospitality as much, if not more so, then the ones outside of our homes that we are extending ourselves too.  Extra treats and snuggles for these guys! 

 

 

 

 

 

They are extremely grateful ( I think) for the warmth and comfort they both are enjoying inside on this cold and snowy day.  This is the cat’s first winter inside with us, and she seems to have adjusted nicely to her change in circumstances.

For the people – comfort food!  While I stayed home from work today, my poor husband braved the elements and drove slowly and carefully to work.  So what better way to welcome him back home and in from the harsh cold then with the delicious aroma filling our house that is coming from the crock pot?  It’s homemade sauce and meatballs for spaghetti at our house!

All of these things on my to do list for today from Romans 12:12-13 are small things.  Don’t be deceived though!  These things, little as they may seem, have brought soothing to my own winter weary soul and at the same time brought comfort to my people and animals.


Sometimes I think I get so caught up in focusing on THE BIG PICTURE of life and SERVING IN THE WORLD that I forget that first and foremost I need to be caring for myself and my family.  Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women (among other wonderful books) said,

“The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.”

Did doing all of these things cure me of my winter blues?  For the moment they have.  Maybe the biggest lesson for me today is that doing these little things are therapeutic for me and everyone around me.  It’s just a matter of taking the time to find the joy in these simple tasks.  After all, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy!

So that being said, I am now off to consume a pot of mochaccinos and answer the call of the Hallmark movies that are calling to me from the dvr!

Winter can’t last forever.  Eventually, just like the laundry, we get to the end of it.

Until spring arrives, stay cozy and warm!


 

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Advent – Looking for Hope

Have you ever found yourself facing down the start of December with absolutely no spark of Christmas cheer?  That is where  I am finding myself at this year.  Advent has started today, and my Advent wreath has no candles in it.

Normally I look forward with great expectations for the coming start of the Christmas season and to going through the meditative Advent activities with my family.  I like to see us each being attentive and watching and waiting for the coming of the baby on Christmas morning.

This year, however, I just can’t seem to muster up a festive spirit.  I have a grieving and sad spirit.  The days are turning colder and the hours of darkness after the sun sets have been getting longer.  That is perfectly fine with me.  It matches the mourning and darkness in my soul.

In normal years, when the fall arrives I begin to get excited for the changing of the seasons, taking in the breathtaking beauty of God’s handy work as he changes the colors of the leaves to glorious autumn colors.  November comes in and brings with it one of my favorite holidays – Thanksgiving.

But this year, while I am still thankful for all I have been blessed with in this life, November itself has become a somber month filled with anniversaries of the passing of loved ones.

This November marked the fifteenth year since my beloved brother left us.  We celebrate his life and are grateful for the memories we have of him.  His passing marked the end of his lifelong struggle with a debilitating disease and we are comforted by the thoughts of him walking, running, and jumping with glee in glory – things that he could no longer do on this earth.   So all of these years there has at least been joy in the sorrow.  Happy rejoicing that Mike is free from the shackles that bound him here.

This November marked the first year anniversary since my beloved cousin was violently killed and taken from us.  One year ago my entire family was in shock and reeling from the unexpected and sudden loss of him.  While we are still all deeply saddened by this senseless loss of life, justice has been served and his killers are sentenced to jail for a very long time unable to hurt any other people and families.

This November has also brought with it another loss for me and my immediate family.  The sudden illness that lead to one of our beloved beagle dogs crossing the Rainbow Bridge on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I am afraid that this latest loss for me has left me with a gaping hole in my heart.  It is never easy to lose a pet, but the unexpectedness of it all has left me feeling sad and lonely, even in the midst of people who care about me very much.

So I decided yesterday to force myself to go through the motions and began pulling out the storage totes with Christmas decorations.  We started decking the halls, so to speak, but when I came to the advent wreath, I must confess that I tucked it away back in the box it came out of.  I just couldn’t bring myself to go through the motions of watching and waiting for joy and peace when my heart hasn’t been feeling either of those things.

Then today at church, our pastor reminded me during his message that the Israelites had their entire world uprooted and transplanted.  They had been removed from the promised land and found themselves trying to make sense of it all as they attempted to pick up the pieces in Babylon.  The favored, chosen children of God had been abandoned by him.

They were feeling lost, lonely and alone.  Mourning and sadness filled their days.  And yet, the Lord God has not abandoned them.  He still has a plan of redemption for them.  He promises them a hope and a future.

So perhaps this year I am more uniquely suited to come into the celebration of the Advent season than in any year prior to this.  I am feeling the loss and loneliness that the ancient Israelites felt.  I am the one mourning, seeking to make sense of the losses that are heavy on my heart.  And just like those ancient children of God, I too can find hope and joy again.


The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
(Isaiah 61:1-2, NRSV)


The advent wreath is back up out of the box.  It is still empty, like I am feeling, but I have lit another candle next to it.  A spark of hope during a season of the dark night of the soul for me.  A spark of flame that tells me even in the midst of my sadness and pain, my God is still here with me waiting patiently for me to turn to him for comfort.



This world is full of lots of things.  Pain, sadness, and suffering, but also kindness, mercy, and gladness.  Most importantly, this world is filled with Love.  God’s love.  God’s love for us.

We are waiting for a baby to be born in a manger, but it is because of this baby that we have a hope for a future.  One in the Father’s kingdom where there is no pain, sadness, or suffering.

Love came down at Christmas, so the old carol goes.

God is with us.

O come, o come Emmanuel

Click here to listen to O come, O Come Emmanuel by Sovereign Grace


 

 

 

Deciphering Me

So I must confess I have a guilty pleasure.  I love to watch Hallmark Channel movies!  It doesn’t matter how many times I have seen a movie, each one is like a dear friend to me that I enjoy spending time with again and again.

The up side to this is I regularly intake good, wholesome entertainment that always has a happy ending!  I also see the characters overcome adversity, find strength in spite of their human weaknesses, and mend broken relationships.  Some rekindle old dreams while others are discovering that change isn’t a bad thing.

The downside of this is that I see these characters in all kinds of jobs that I think I would really love to have, which leaves me feeling discontent.  Women who run country inns or bed and breakfasts or are chefs, writers, artists, restaurant owners, bookstore owners, wedding planners, or teachers to name a few.


So for the past few days I have been trying to imagine what my perfect job and life would be if I had no current obligations and money did not need to be a consideration – both the money for any training and/or set up cost and the income from said perfect job to at least maintain my family’s current finances.  Because let’s face it, I can’t turn off the satellite service to save the money on that bill – how would I watch the Hallmark channel?!?!?

I would be a writer with degrees in biblical studies that may possibly moonlight as a college professor while also having either a bookstore with a cafe and fun events for the community or an inn, and may here or there conduct public speaking engagements or fill in as a substitute preacher on a Sunday morning.  My daily life would include walks in nature, time for yoga (which I have never done but REALLY want to), reading/writing/research time, and time for puttering around my house cleaning, decorating, and cooking amazingly delicious and healthy meals.   Phew! Now I can take a breath.

That’s all!  Is that really so much to ask for? Lol.

This career path looks absolutely NOTHING like my current job and life.  As I have reflected in the past, I made the life choices that brought me to this career path based on a desire to be successful.  Unfortunately the definition of successful I used was the world’s definitions instead of God’s.

This realization of what I want to be versus what I currently am leaves me with two choices:


  1. Continue to be stressed and bitter about what I wish my life could be, filling my thoughts with regrets and what ifs.
  2. Know that God has brought me through everything up till this point and that he will use all of this in some way in my life. I can start making little changes here and there to work towards achieving some or all of these visions for myself trusting in God to bring me to that place to be the person he is calling me to be in His own time.

In my old life I would have probably chosen option number one and made myself miserable allowing the bitterness to steal all of the joy out of my life.  But I am a new creation, content to trust in God that he knows the directions he wants my life to go in.  So I am choosing option two.

Starting here and now in fact (with this blog post) – because I am writing.  And I will use the planner I keep thinking to myself that I should use to schedule time so that I can be more intentional about writing.

I will also add to my prayer journal these petitions to the section on my own person goals and dreams (you know, the one I keep meaning to set up to be more intentional about prayer time).  My prayer will be that God takes this vision of what I think I want to be and uses it to help me find out who He wants me to be.  And perhaps who I am now is EXACTLY who and what he wants me to be.

Last year I tried the New Years resolution word thing – where you pick a word to describe something you are working on understanding or being in your life.  The word I chose was Enough.  I wanted to focus on who I am in Jesus Christ and that I am enough exactly as I am.

This coming year I already have my word picked out and it is going to be Intentional.  Intentional in my walk with Jesus, intentional in my health goals for myself, intentional in seeking further education in theology and biblical studies, and intentional in developing as a writer.

Perhaps this is a two-year resolution word…

As often happens, while I was trying to get these words out I ran across on Facebook a Bible verse shared by author Sarah Bessey that has put this all into perspective for me today.  Isn’t God’s timing perfect?!?!

Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 (MSG)

Regardless of what my current employment is or my current lifestyle, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if I am an accounting manager or a published author.  What matters is how I live my life.  Do I chose the ways of the world or do I embrace my citizenship in God’s Kingdom?  Am I a humble servant of God that is obedient to God’s will for me?

My discontent over my job is just another worldly distraction.  I choose to be grateful I am blessed with employment at all.  And I choose to be more intentional about making changes for my future.  Counting my blessings daily and enjoying the simple things of God’s creation.


 

 

 

 

 

Bobby Pins, Fish Sticks, and Flowered Yoga Pants

Today has been one of those days that got off to a crappy start – literally!
Here is pretty much how my day went…

As I stepped out of our shower in the basement this morning I discovered that one of our beagles had decided it was much too wet to go outside and do her business.

Not long after arriving at work I received a call from my son that this same beagle decided to also have a field day in the kitchen and spent her time dumpster diving in the garbage can!

I had to confront an employee that I supervise about their recent bad attitude.  I dislike this part of my job very much!

Halfway through my commute home I ran into intense wind and rain.

Arriving home I got to work and  scrubbed the kitchen floor.

(Remember the dumpster diving beagle?)

 

Next came filling the sink with dish water to wash up the bowls and cups that had gathered through out the day. At this point thoughts of pulling up the recipe for Korean beef with rice and broccoli that was planned for dinner tonight had me completely overwhelmed. I was very quickly becoming the Crabby Mom Extraordinaire.

A quick call to my husband, and we both quickly agreed that frozen fish sticks with mac and cheese would make an ideal supper for tonight.   A very wise move on his part!

As I began to put together this quick supper I reflected back over the stresses of my day and began to hear the words of a hymn floating through my head.  The hymn is one that is inspired by verses 9-10 of Psalm 57 (NRSV):

I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
 For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
    your faithfulness extends to the clouds.

And I realized that maybe, just maybe, for once I should follow the advice from all of those articles that I read on a regular basis and focus on my blessings instead of my troubles.   

So, tonight I am extremely grateful for bobby pins.  They are currently pinning back my bangs which have grown extremely long.  And I am reminded by these bobby pins that later this week I will be going to the salon for a hair cut and relaxation.

I am very grateful to the company that took the time to catch and prepare the frozen fish sticks that helped form a quick meal for my little family.  In a burst of charity I threw some canned green beans into the microwave to class up our meal and round us out with a veggie.

I am grateful that today the grey floral yoga pants I ordered over a month ago were waiting for me in the mail box. The cheerful flowers on my comfy pants tonight have been a cheerful spot of color on a grey and rainy night.

I am also very grateful for my husband who came home and made not a single word of complaint about the change in tonight’s menu.  He tucked into his fish sticks and mac and cheese like it was a gourmet meal at a fancy seafood restaurant.

As this trend in my mind continued, I began to feel a bit like Pollyanna in the Disney movie from the ’60’s and started to play the Glad Game.

I am glad for a job that allows me the ability to be available when my son is sick or has a sports meet.  I am also glad for the opportunities to grow that have come my way in this current job.  Even having to correct an employee is a growth opportunity – it pushes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to learn new and better ways of communicating with others.

Wind and rain may have slowed down my progress home, but I am very glad and grateful that the car I drive is safe and dependable.

And yes, the beagle did try my patience greatly with her bad behavior and antics this morning, but I am very glad at the end of every day to see her happily wagging her tail to greet me when I walk through the door at night after work.

By the time the dinner dishes were done, I realized that I was no longer a stressed out crabby mom.  Perhaps my day hadn’t been so bad after all.  Turning my mind away from troubles and intentionally choosing to focus on gratitude acted as a balm on my weary soul. It is amazing how a little bit of gratitude goes such a long way!

Our Father in Heaven wants us to seek him in everything and he will gladly share whatever burdens we have.  In doing so, he will also help us to see the hidden blessings he is constantly showering us with if we but take the time to realize it.

Finding things to praise Him for in the midst of our mundane tasks helps to keep our hearts in perfect harmony with the One who created us.  He wants and deserves our praise – not just in the highlights of our lives, but also in the everyday struggles, joys  and the trials and tribulations of our daily lives.

Even on the most stressful of days, we can find the hidden blessings of bobby pins, fish sticks, and flowered yoga pants.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.   – Colossians 3:14-16 (NSRV)

 

 

 

 

 

Deciphering Discipleship Part 2

Part Two of the sermon entitled Deciphering Discipleship which was originally given on April 23, 2017 at Midway Mennonite Church in Columbiana, OH.

Sermon Scripture Text: Mathew 28:18-20
2 Timothy 3:14-17


 

Churches try to fit discipleship neatly into a one size fits all seminar or small group topic every now and again, when in fact it needs to be ongoing and looks different for each person.  Ogden believes discipleship done well in churches actually works better when congregations are split into smaller groups starting with two or three people that meet together on a regular basis for studies and discussions, who then go out and each start groups of two or three so that everyone can have an accountability group and a safe place to learn and grow and be mentored.

Being a disciple means making a choice to be a continuous life-long seeker and learner of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  It is a continual process that isn’t ever completed in this life.  Billy Graham says, “Salvation is free but discipleship costs everything we have.

Jesus isn’t present on this earth anymore in a physical body, so how then do we become disciples and followers of Jesus Christ?  Where do we look for guidance? We can’t leave our homes and follow after him as he travels from place to place.  Paul gives us the answer to this question in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it,and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” 

Paul is writing to his student Timothy to encourage him in his ministry at Ephesus.  He is reassuring him that he has all the tools he needs in place to be successful in his ministry.  God has authored the scripture through human hands, which have been taught to Timothy from a young age by his mother and grandmother.  With this faith formation, if Timothy will continue to choose to immerse himself in the written Word of God, he will be fully equipped for every good work and demand of his ministry.

We need to develop the intentional habits of daily Bible study and prayer into our lives every day, not just on Sundays.  Reading books by outstanding leaders of the faith help us to understand things we may be struggling with, but they are not a substitute for reading God’s Word.

By soaking ourselves in the Word of God, his ways begin to become more engrained in us.  This is how we learn Christ’s ways.  This is not just a New Testament concept.  We read in the very first verses of Psalms 1, Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. 

As Anabaptists, we should actually be a little of ahead of other denominations in the area of discipleship because at the core of our Confession of Faith and formation as a denomination is the belief that we should live our lives by being a people of the Book, using the Bible as our guidebook on how to live and treat others.

We come to our believer’s baptism after accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior, but we don’t stop there.  We go forward as people of the Book, committed to learning the Jesus Way of Life and serving others as Jesus instructed in the Sermon on the Mount.  Baptism doesn’t signal the end of our part of the covenant.  It is only the beginning.

It is a lot like placing an online order or calling an order in.  I work at a company that is a redistributor.  Every day customer service receives calls from customers who want to place orders.  Once an order is confirmed in customer service (or baptism takes place), the product (Us, people) becomes committed and belongs to the buyer (Jesus, God) but further steps have to be taken for that product to ultimately reach its buyer.  The process doesn’t stop there.  The transaction isn’t complete yet.  The order has to be sent to the warehouse where it is picked, then taken to the shipping department where it is prepared for shipment, and then picked up by the shipping company to be delivered at last to the buyer.

After baptism, our journey isn’t over, it is only just begun as we begin a new life in Jesus Christ.  We need to equip ourselves to go out and do God’s work here in His Kingdom on earth as we advance throughout our lives until the time when God calls us home.  This equipping allows us to be prepared to shine the light of God’s love into the lives of others, and thereby do the work of disciples and invite those others to become a part of our circle, or churches, to be followers of Jesus with us.

At the beginning of our time this morning, I told you the story of the little dove that was trying to put out a forest fire with a few drops of water at a time from its wings.  While the intent of this little bird was good and true, it wasn’t really equipped for the business of putting out fires.

When we don’t devote ourselves to consistent Bible study and prayer, we become like the little bird.  We are unequipped to go forth and make disciples as we are commanded to do in Matthew 28:18-20.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”  This could be the creed for a disciple’s life!

We are like trees.  We nourish our roots with the Word of God.  When we do this daily, we grow strong roots, roots that are watered by the Word of God.  It becomes a part of our very being.  It molds us into followers of Christ.  With our strong, well-watered roots, we are equipped to reach out to those around us and help them find the same Living water that has helped us grow.

True discipleship can’t be measured.  It isn’t about how many people you help lead to Christ, but more so about how closely you draw yourself to Christ and walk in the Jesus Way during your time here on this earth.  It is about being humble and obedient to doing his will as you go out and serve a world that is longing and looking for the light of the Gospel.

Before we can go forth and add to the circle of the followers of Jesus, we must first become disciples of him ourselves.  We must become dedicated life-long learners and seekers of his Truth.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?  Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

Are you a follower of Jesus today?

If not, are you willing to take the first step and plant yourself as a young sapling on the way to growing into a tall, strong tree of faith?

Are you ready to become what the Lord is calling you to be today?

Are you a disciple of Jesus?


If you missed Part One it can be found here.